Ritual Transformations of Consciousness

Second annual conference of the Black Sacred Arts series

May 15–17, 2023


The Yale Institute of Sacred Music is proud to present its second annual conference on the theme of Ritual Transformations of Consciousness. Ritual transformations of consciousness (RTC)—often referred to in the literature as spirit possession, mediumship, more rarely shamanism; more broadly as trance, ecstasy, and altered states of consciousness—have, when addressed as elements of African and African Diasporic religions, long been the racialized domain of the Other; evolutionarily prior, a site of precarity or state of incompleteness for a developing rationality. Although much has been accomplished in recent scholarship in recovering these extra-ordinary ways of being from alienating frames of reference that reduce such phenomena to projections of the Western imagination, much remains to be done in gaining new insights into how these modes of being-away expand the human repertoire of being-there.

This conference seeks to bring together scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines and (medico)-religious perspectives to foster dialogue on the aesthetic dimensions of these rituals. From the healing dance of the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, to the Vodu and Orisha orders of the Black Atlantic; from the drums of affliction found throughout Bantu-speaking Africa, to being slain in the spirit in an African American church, ritual transformations of consciousness animate the Black sacred arts. Far from being ancillary to ritual practice, as the arts have so often been depicted, they are central to technologies of ritual transformation. How can a focus on the sensory domains of music, art, ritual and expressive culture more generally open up new perspectives in the study of African and African diasporic religion?

The keynote speakers for the conference will be J. Lorand Matory from Duke University and Steven Friedson from the University of North Texas.

We are now inviting proposals for papers for the 2023 conference. Details can be found in the “Call for Proposals” drop down to the left.